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Chapter XIV, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 7


Disturbed State of Ireland - Military Organisation of the Peasantry - John Lawless at Ballyhay - The Brunswick Clubs - Protestants of Ulster - Perplexity of the Government - Conduct of Lord Anglesey« - Apprehensions of Rebellion - Mr. O'Connell's "Moral Force" - Rationale of Agitation - The Order of u Liberators " - Exclusive Dealing - Celtic Organisation - Mr. Dawson, of Derry, counsels " Surrender; " he is burnt in Effigy - The Brunswickers eager for War - The Penenden Heath Meeting - Mr. Sheil's Speech - The Catholic Association - The Leinster Declaration - "Weakness of the Moderate Party in Ireland - Banquet to Lord Morpeth on his Visit to Dublin - The Duke of Wellington's Letter to Primate Curtis - Reply of the Viceroy; difference between him and the Premier - Complaints of the latter regarding the Irish Administration - Lord Anglesey's spirited Defence; his Recall; his parting Advice to the Roman Catholics - Lord Eldon's Account of the King's Distress about Emancipation - The English Bishops hostile to Catholic Emancipation - Sir Robert Peel's Statement of the Difficulties in the Way - The King consents to have Emancipation made a Cabinet Question.
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The state of Ireland continued to excite the greatest alarm from the prorogation of parliament to the end of the year. The language of the speakers in the association became more violent, and the harangues of the priests more inflammatory. In the counties of Tipperary and Limerick large bodies of men were accustomed to assemble on Sundays, and to parade in military order, carrying banners. These bands were regularly organised and admirably commanded. The Irish government, from time to time, reported the progress of this formidable organisation. In one place as many as 700 "cavalry" would assemble, with thousands of infantry, and go through military evolutions. These were surrounded by thousands of the peasantry. Amongst the persons thus paraded were some of the most abandoned characters in the country, men who had notoriously been concerned in the perpetration of murder, and for the apprehension of whom large rewards had been offered in vain by the government. These demonstrations, as might be expected, excited the greatest alarm among the protestants of the south, as well as the peaceably disposed Roman catholics. One ominous circumstance connected with them was the fact that the dissuasions of the priests against the meetings in military array were disregarded. Mr. Lawless, an active member of the association, marched northward at the head of 10,000 Roman catholics. In the county of Monaghan, the Orangemen, apprised of their approach, took possession of the town of Ballyhay in large numbers, prepared to encounter the southern invaders of Ulster. As the Orangemen were well armed, and excited to the utmost, a bloody battle would have ensued, had not Lawless beaten a timely retreat. Getting out of his carriage, and mounting a swift horse, he galloped off, amidst the indignant shouts of his followers.

The formidable organisation of the Roman catholics led to a counter organisation of the protestants, in the form of Brunswick clubs. This organisation embraced the whole of the protestant peasantry, north and south, the protestant farmers, and many of the gentry. They, too, held their regular meetings, had their exciting oratory, and passed strong resolutions, condemnatory of the inaction of the government, which was charged with neglecting its first and most imperative duty - the protection of society from lawless violence. The Brunswickers, as well as the emancipators, had their "rent," to bear the expenses of the agitation. They alleged that they were obliged to organise in self-defence, and in defence of the constitution. In Ulster, the country was divided into two camps, catholic and protestant. Notwithstanding the difference in numbers, the protestants of Ulster were eager to encounter their antagonists in the field, and had not the slightest doubt of being able to beat them. They had all the proud confidence of a dominant race, and regarded the military pretensions of their antagonists as scornfully as the Turks would regard similar pretensions on the part of the Greeks. The state of feeling on both sides was such, that an aggression upon the protestants in the south would have called forth 100,000 armed men in the north; and an aggression upon the catholics in Ulster would have produced a similar effect among the catholics at Munster. The number of protestants in favour of emancipation constituted but a small minority. The great mass were against concession. They believed that an insurrection would be the most satisfactory solution of the difficulty. With the aid of the army, they felt that they were able to crush the "papists," as they had been crushed in 1798, and then they hoped they would be quiet, for at least another generation, resuming what they considered their proper position as " sole-leather." They forgot, however, the increase' in their numbers, their property, and their intelligence. They forgot the growth of a middle class amongst them; the increased power and influence of the hierarchy, and the formidable band of agitators supplied by the Roman catholic bar, whose members, many of them men of commanding abilities and large practice, were excluded by their creed from the bench; which exclusion filled the minds of the ambitious with a burning sense of wrong, and made it their interest to devise all possible modes of evading the law, while keeping the country on the verge of insurrection.

So successful were they in this endeavour, that the government was in a state of the greatest possible perplexity. Lord Anglesey, the viceroy, and lord Leveson Gower, the chief secretary, were in continual correspondence with the home secretary, as to the propriety of adopting measures of repression. Lord Anglesey was decided in his conviction that emancipation ought to be immediately granted. He was naturally reluctant to employ force, unless it was imperatively necessary, and then he felt with Mr. Peel that it ought to be used effectively, whatever might be the consequences. Neither the Irish nor the English government concealed from itself what those consequences would probably be - namely, an open rebellion, a sanguinary civil war; which, however, they had no doubt of being able to put down. The law officers of the crown, both in England and Ireland, were called upon for their opinions as to the illegality of the proceedings of the agitators, as to the likelihood of success in case of prosecution, and whether the government would be warranted, by statute or common law, in dispersing the popular assemblages by force. They agreed on both sides of the channel that the case was not sufficiently clear to justify the government either in legal proceedings or military repression. The English law officers came to this conclusion, although at the time Sir Charles Wetherell was attorney-general. It is evident, however, from the tone of the correspondence published by Sir Robert Peel's executors, that the home secretary was far from being satisfied with the conduct of lord Anglesey. It was believed that he did not always act with sufficient discretion, and that he sometimes did and said things which made the agitators believe that they had his countenance and support. For example, he went on a visit to lord Cloncurry, who, though a protestant, was a member of the Catholic Association, and who a few days after entertaining the representative of the king, attended a meeting of that body. The excuse of lord Anglesey was, that lord Cloncurry went for the purpose of preventing the passing of a resolution in favour of exclusive dealing. The opinion of the English government was shared by Mr. Vesey Fitzgerald and many other liberal statesmen who sympathised with the irritation of the Irish protestants at the supineness of the Irish executive. Looking at the state of things at this distance of time, every impartial person must agree that Sir Robert Peel was right. He had urged the propriety of issuing a proclamation by the lord-lieutenant in council, warning the people against assembling in large bodies in military array, as exciting alarm in the public mind, and threatening to disturb the peace. When at last lord Anglesey was induced to adopt this course, it proved successful. The agitators became cowed and cautious, and it was quite evident that nothing was further from their wishes than to come to blows, either with the troops or the Brunswickers. Thus, in November, Mr. Vesey Fitzgerald wrote to Mr. Peel: " The sentiment is universal of disgust, indignation, and alarm, at the proceedings of lord Anglesey's government, and at the tone of his partisans and his press. Whether the collision will happen so soon as is contemplated I know not. I rather think not. The association is frightened; and if the demonstrations of the south are interrupted, and Mr. Lawless's progress in the west be not persevered in, it is possible, and it is to be hoped, that the hostile parties may not come to an effusion of blood. But can we read the reports of the meetings that are taking place and expect that before the winter is over, the gentry of the country, emancipators as well as Brunswickers, will not call on the government to take a part, and to save us from these horrors? " Mr. Leslie Foster, a leading Irish statesman, wrote in the same month: " Depend upon it, let parliament do what they may, the catholics will not rebel. Their leaders are more deeply convinced than you are of the utter and immediate ruin that would be the result of any insurrectionary movement; and in every rank among them, down to the lowest, there is a due fear of the power of England, the facilities of a steam invasion, the character of the duke, and not least, perhaps above all, the readiness of the Ulster protestants for battle. It is further to be borne in mind that in no period within our memory was the condition of the people so rapidly improving, or their employment so great, as at the present moment; and there is a real, substantial disinclination in consequence, amongst all ranks above the mere rabble, to hazard any course that would involve the country in confusion. "

Mr. O'Connell's avowed principle of action was " moral force." He was in the constant habit of asserting that "the man who commits a crime gives strength to the enemy;" and that no political advantages, however great, should be obtained at the expense of " one drop of Christian blood." Nevertheless, the letters which he was in the habit of addressing to "the people of Ireland," and which were remarkable for their clearness, force, and emphatic tautology, had always prefixed to them, as a standing motto, Byron's couplet -

" Hereditary bondsmen! know ye not
Who would be free, themselves must strike the blow? "

There is no doubt that his great object was through life to inspire his Roman catholic countrymen with a consciousness of their physical power, supplanting the slavish spirit that had been inspired by the penal code. He was accustomed to say that for every shilling of " rent" there was a man, and the man could grasp a weapon, and put forth a power that slumbered in his right arm. In fact, this mighty political conjuror produced all his spells by invoking this phantom of physical force; nor did he invoke it in vain, for it was that phantom that ultimately terrified the most determined supporters of protestant ascendancy into the surrender of the principle of civil equality. The Catholic Association, in its origin, was treated with contempt, and even catholics themselves spoke of it with derision; but as it proceeded in its operations, the speeches that were weekly delivered produced an effect which daily increased. The catholic aristocrat was made to feel " that his ancient blood, which slavery had made stagnant in his veins, was of no avail; the catholic merchant was taught that his coffers filled with gold could not impart to him any substantial importance, when every needy corporator looked down upon him from the pedestal of his aristocratic religion; the catholic priest was informed that he had much occasion to put the lessons of humility inculcated by the Gospel into practice, when every coxcomb minister of the establishment could, with impunity, put some sacerdotal affront upon him. In short, from the proudest nobleman down to the meanest serf, the whole body of Roman catholics were rendered sensible of their inferior posture in the state. The stigma was pointed at - men became exasperated at their grievances when they were roused to their perception; a mirror was held up to Ireland, and when she beheld the brand upon her forehead, she began to burn. Reviled as the catholic demagogues have been, still did they not accomplish great things when they succeeded in marshalling and bringing the whole population of the country into array? The English people had been previously taught to hold the Irish catholics in contempt; but when they saw that such an immense population was actuated by one indignant sentiment, and was combined in an impassioned, but not the less effectual, organisation, and, above all, when they perceived £1,000 a-week pouring into the exchequer, their alarm was excited, and, although their pride was wounded, they ceased to despise where they had begun to fear. The wonders which were achieved in Waterford, in Armagh, in Monaghan, and in Louth, may be referred to the system of energy which had been adopted. "We are not, after all," said Mr. Sheil, "like the captives of Calcutta, who were allowed to perish rather than that the rajah should be awakened from his sleep. Let not the ministers expect to slumber on undisturbed by the wrongs and unaroused by the cries of Ireland. Ireland shall thunder at, though she may not be able to break open, their doors, till the ministers shall themselves exclaim, ' Wake, England, with this knocking!' We must keep perpetually in view the necessity of adapting ourselves to the passions of the Irish, as well as of soothing the prejudices of the English people. This never should be lost sight of; and those who are most inclined to censure our conduct, and are sometimes at a loss to »account for our violence, as it is called, will find, in this simple remark, the obvious clue to our policy. Whatever we do, men will always be found to cavil at our proceedings; and this being the inevitable consequence of whatever course we pursue, I prefer the bold and manly system to the base and servile, which would equally supply arguments against our cause. If I am to be treated like a dog, I had rather be chained up as a furious hound, than beaten like a well-bred spaniel, and repaid with blows for my sycophancy and fawning. But, independently of the superior manliness of taking a bold and determined course, and of calling the attention of the whole empire - and, I may add, of the world - to the oppression of the Irish catholics, which is so disgraceful to the English nation, and makes all Europe cry out 'Shame! the more honourable is also, I have no doubt, the wisest course. Nothing but the permanent exigency of concession will produce it. It is for us to generate that exigency. How is that to be effected? By rousing, consolidating, and organising the energies of the people. There are many- aye, and in our own body - who tell us that we should approach the legislature in a base and servile attitude, as if Ireland should be fearful lest the reiteration of her complaints should weary the honourable house; and she should preface her supplications with all apology for her intrusion. Let me not be told of the pride of the English people. If they are proud, they will eventually respect us the more for adopting a little of their own character and demeanour. The tone and the attitude of Ireland should correspond with her increasing importance and power. She should stand at the bar of the legislature erect and independent, and, stretching forth her vigorous and gigantic arm, she should remind her oppressors of the infraction of treaties, of the breach of contracts, of the violation of all right, of the outrage upon all honour; and, having demonstrated her injuries, having disclosed all her wrongs, having torn open her bosom, if I may so say, and shown the hideous cancer of faction, eating to the heart, and corroding the life and substance of her being, she should tell them that she will be eventually as strong as she is miserable, and exclaim, 'Do me justice - rescue me from wretchedness and from distraction - give me back my liberty - raise me to the place I should maintain in the empire - give me back my spoliated rights - restore me to my violated franchises - give me back my liberty, or' ------- I pause upon the brink of the alternative to which I had hurried, and, receding from it, leave it to you to complete the sentence."

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Pictures for Chapter XIV, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 7

Sunday parade in Tipperary
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Londonderry
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Marquis of Lansdowne
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